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Parents Lose More Than Kids in Fentanyl Murder Cases

By Michael DeRienzo, Esq. | Last updated on

It's every parent's worst nightmare. Imagine going to bed at night and waking up the next morning to find your child dead. Even worse, upon discovery of the body, you figure out that the cause of your child's death was you. You had left out pills (or powder) on your nightstand containing the deadly drug Fentanyl.

Now imagine that you were potentially facing life in prison for murder.

The Crime

It is no secret that the opioid crisis has grown into a full epidemic. Over the past few years, the United States has seen an unprecedented rise in opioid deaths. Experts agree that the over prescription of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, is directly related to this rise.

Who to blame for the crisis is hotly debated. Doctors, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, and insurance companies all share at least partial blame.

But what about the victims themselves? The term victim is important because opioid use disorder is an illness. And it is not just the stereotypical "drug addicts" who are abusing opioids. In 2021, 9.2 million people, or 3.3% of Americans over the age of 12, abused opioids. Many victims that abuse opioids were prescribed the medication for legitimate reasons and later became addicted to the effects.

Fentanyl is a major cause of opioid-related deaths. Fentanyl is an FDA-approved drug used to treat pain. Fifty to 100 times more powerful that morphine, Fentanyl has become a popular illegal drug often mixed with other drugs. Even a small amount of Fentanyl can cause an overdose death.

The Victim(s)

When someone dies from an overdose, they are not the sole victim of the overdose. Parents, siblings, friends, relatives … they all are harmed by these drug related deaths. When a loved one overdoses from knowingly taking an illegal drug, there can be a lot of complex feelings around the death and who to blame.

However, when a loved one dies from unknowingly taking an illegal drug, there are less questions about who to blame. It is usually the person who supplied the drug to the unknowing person.

When that loved one is a small child and the supplier is their parent, the blame is clear. Right?

The Punishment

Many prosecutors around the country would agree with that last sentence. While drug-induced homicide laws vary by state, they all generally charge the supplier of the drugs with homicide if the buyer overdoses.

Historically, drug-induced homicide laws have been used to prosecute drug-dealers and drug-suppliers. However, recent prosecutions have used drug-induced homicide laws to prosecute parents over their children's overdoses.

  • In California, the parents of 15-month old were charged with murder after their daughter overdosed on drugs left on a night table.
  • In Maine, a mother pleaded guilty to manslaughter after her 14-month old son overdosed on fentanyl found in his bedroom.
  • In Maryland, the parents of a 2-month old were charged with involuntary manslaughter after their son died from narcotic intoxication.

Some have argued that prosecuting parents a child is not an effective deterrent. Further, there is debate whether it is right to prosecute a parent who is suffering from both opioid abuse and the loss of child. Any parent in such a situation would have a hard time living with themselves as it is. Others argue that this is a necessary step to protect children.

While it is too early to tell, as this epidemic has no end in sight, lawmakers are looking to use every avenue available in attempt to slow things down.

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